With reproductive rights constantly under attack in the United States, humanists spend a significant amount of time and effort defending abortion access, whether through volunteering and donating to pro-choice organizations or by explaining to friends and family why abortion is a valid and moral decision. However, in defending women’s right to reproductive freedom, humanists should also remember that the right to have a child is just as important as the right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. While instances in which humanists, feminists, and other pro-choice advocates must defend women’s right to carry a wanted pregnancy from religious organizations may seem rare, we must be prepared to speak out against these situations if we truly care about women’s right to bodily autonomy under all circumstances.
Recently, an instance of a religious organization pressuring women to have abortions has come into the spotlight through a lawsuit filed against the Church of Scientology. The lawsuit was filed by Laura Crescenzo, a former Scientologist and member of the Sea Org. The Sea Org is an organization made up of Scientology’s most committed members, often children of Scientologists, who are employed by the church and exploited as employees through withheld wages, long working hours, and threats of being ostracized for leaving. Sea Org members are forbidden from having children, and those who become pregnant are coerced into having abortions, despite the official Church of Scientology’s stance that abortions are “traumatic physically and spiritually to an unborn child.” (The trauma an abortion may cause to the mother is mentioned almost as an afterthought.) After being forced to terminate her pregnancy and enduring even more abuse, Crescenzo spent years seeking justice from Scientology.
Scientology is not the only church that has demonstrated a total disregard for women’s reproductive freedom and blatant hypocrisy concerning what it teaches and what it actually does. A couple years ago, two children discovered babies’ bones around the former site of an Irish home run by Catholic nuns that housed unwed mothers. Investigators are still searching for over 700 bodies of babies, many of them newborns, which were buried by the nuns. The Bon Secours sisters, who ran the facility until the 1960s, have since been found to abuse the young mothers and neglect the children who were meant to be in their care. The children at the home who survived past infancy were reported to be malnourished, sickly, and unused to being held. The young mothers in the home frequently had their children taken from them and put up for adoption without their consent. Despite its self-righteous rhetoric about the “sanctity of life” and its handwringing over the lives of children, the Catholic Church’s abysmal record on caring for those children and their mothers does not even begin to reflect the values it claims to uphold.
Not all religious traditions, of course, insist on mandating what women should do with their own bodies if they become pregnant. Reform Judaism, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, many Wiccan and Pagan traditions, the Satanic Temple, and Unitarian Universalists, among others, affirm women’s right to have autonomy over their bodies. At the very least, these faiths regard abortion as a private decision that a woman must make for herself and they do not attempt to meddle with laws that ensure abortion access. What these faiths also hold in common is they also do not mandate that women must have abortions to continue serving in the church and they also offer affirmation for women who wish to continue their pregnancies and raise their children.
Though the humanist movement often finds itself defending abortion because of the frequent attacks against it lobbed by the religious right, the humanist movement ultimately stands for full bodily autonomy for women. Access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion is part of that bodily autonomy, but so is the right of women to have children and raise them in a society that will care for them. To stand for reproductive justice, humanists must also fight for the right of women to have children if they want them and to be able to bring them into a world where they have access to nourishment, healthcare, and an education.
Being truly pro-choice means supporting all of the reproductive choices that a woman may make, and both abortion and keeping the pregnancy are part of the range of choices. Just as the humanist movement criticizes Catholics and evangelical Christians when they codify their religious beliefs into law, we should also criticize the Church of Scientology for coercing its members into having abortions against their will. And we should stand with other organizations, both religious and secular, that fight for women’s reproductive freedoms.